Mohaymen Kiaran McLaughlin
Tapit—Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union
Shadwell manager Rick Nichols said his performance in the Holy Bull sent chills up and down his back. When you see perfection and executed with such ease it does get the emotions flowing. Even though he ran his first half in a soft :49 1/5, when you can run your second half in :46 3/5 and final sixteenth in :06 flat and do it easily, that is enough to suggest there could be something special here. He does have the powerful closing punch you want to see and can use it from just off the pace, much like Barbaro did in his Derby victory. Add to that the physical prowess, a great mind and professional demeanor, and the ability to run fast without exerting himself, and you have the prototype everyone looks for in a Derby horse. There is a reason why he sold for $2.2 million. As for his pedigree, there is a good mixture of speed and distance blood, and his sire and broodmare sire both sired Belmont Stakes winners (Tonalist, by Tapit and Union Rags, by Dixie Union), and Dixie Union also sired Grasshopper, who was narrowly beaten by Street Sense in the Travers Stakes. Justwhistledixie was a multiple stakes winner and grade I-placed (2nd in the Acorn), who also produced Mohaymen’s half-brother, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner New Year’s Day, who “only” sold for $425,000 as a yearling.
Mor Spirit Bob Baffert
Eskendereya—Im a Dixie Girl, by Dixie Union
The more I watch him the more he reminds me of another ridgling, A.P. Indy, the way he runs with his head way down and uses his long stride to methodically wear down his opponents, while expending as little energy as possible. Like A.P. Indy, he’s not going to ‘Wow’ you; he just knows how to beat you. In the Robert Lewis, he put in those :24 quarters and then wore down the two horses in front of him, coming home fast and doing it in precision-like manner. The main question with him is who he’s been beating. We saw what Toews on Ice did in the Smarty Jones, and the two horses he tracked in perfect position in the Lewis had never been farther than 6 1/2 furlongs. But I am going to deduce from what I saw that both Uncle Lino and I Will Score are very talented horses and should have been tough, considering the slow fractions they set. His Brisnet and Beyer speed figures were OK, but nothing to get excited over, but it’s at least been a slow and steady climb since the Kentucky Jockey Club. When you have a stride like his and you run with your head that far down, it’s never going to look like you’re running fast. The bottom line is he’s progressing the right way, he appears to still have a lot left in the tank, and he knows how to win without taking too much out of himself. He has the perfect jockey, and his trainer isn’t too shabby when it comes to training a horse for the Derby.
Brody's Cause Dale Romans
Giant’s Causeway —Sweet Breanna, by Sahm
After returning with a razor-sharp :47 2/5 breeze on Jan. 18, Romans has been slowing the colt down with each subsequent work. Following his :49 2/5 breeze last week, he breezed him 5f in 1:02 4/5 this week. We still have to wait until March 12 for his much-anticipated debut in the Tampa Bay Derby, so there are still plenty of works on his schedule and there is no need for speed right now, especially considering speed is not his game. With such a late starting date, I would rather have this colt at No. 2 or 3 and be able to keep him there without running and eventually moving him up than starting him at No. 1 and having to lower him as horses like Mohaymen and Mor Spirit assert themselves in competition. Tampa Bay does tend to get a horse fit, so it should set him up well for the Blue Grass Stakes. There isn’t going to be a lot to say about him each week that hasn’t been said already, except that he did possess the most impressive turn of foot and stretch kick we saw all year and all he has to do is duplicate that in his two preps to be considered a major threat in the Kentucky Derby. Right now, there seems to be a heckuva Derby gods battle brewing between Romans and Kiaran McLaughlin.
Greenpointcrusader Dominick Schettino
Bernardini—Ava Knowsthecode, by Cryptoclearance
I liked his Holy Bull effort, but as someone with a keen sense of history and logic, I was surprised to read that he is scheduled to have only one more prep, the Louisiana Derby. Timing-wise, he will be attempting something that hasn’t been done and that always creates unwanted questions. And it’s those questions that prompted his being dropped two spots. What he will be attempting is to win the Derby off two preps with a two-month layoff between races and then 6 weeks to the big race. Each has been accomplished individually, but never both together. Animal Kingdom won the Derby off 6 weeks, but his two preps were only 23 days apart. Big Brown won off 5 weeks, but had 24 days between preps, and Mine That Bird won off 5 weeks, with one month between preps. Super Saver and Street Sense had one month between preps and 3 weeks to the Derby. And the one horse who had a two-month layoff between preps, I’ll Have Another, had 4 weeks to the Derby. Greenpointcrusader will have only one race in 14 weeks leading into the Derby, and because he ran counter productive to his best style, I feel he will need two races to re-establish his running style and show he wants to go 1 1/4 miles, especially considering two of his brothers were distance limited. Also, no horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby straight from the Louisiana Derby. Of the only two winners of both races, Grindstone ran back in the Arkansas Derby and Black Gold ran in the Derby Trial. Can it be done? Anything is possible. I still like this colt and haven’t lost faith in him, but now historical trends have slipped into the equation, creating questions that won’t be answered until the Derby.
Nyquist Doug O'Neill
Uncle Mo—Seeking Gabrielle, by Forestry
The slow works are over and it’s time to get serious and sharpen that edge for the 7f San Vicente Stakes, where he’ll take on Exaggerator and other fast horses. He accomplished that with a brilliant :59 1/5 drill in company, out 6f in 1:13 flat, second fastest of 48 works at the distance. O’Neill has done a super job training him for this race. Based on his ability to beat you sprinting or two turns, he’s going to be awfully tough to handle, and because it’s a sprint, he doesn’t have to worry about doing too much. He’ll do what he needs to and that will set him up for his return to two turns. I realize, at No. 5, I’m probably underselling this colt for all he’s accomplished, and that has nothing to do with his ability. Like Greenpointcrusader, it’s all about his pre-Derby schedule and having only one sprint race and one 1 1/8-mile race in the Florida Derby and then five weeks to the Kentucky Derby. Now, if that should change, then he very well could move up near the top of the list, depending on how he runs on Monday. If there is one thing he does have going for him it is that O’Neill has been successful not going by the book and he knows how to get a horse to a big race as well as anyone. Getting the lightly raced I’ll Have Another to win the Derby, and from the 19 post, was as brilliant a training job as you’ll see.
Exaggerator Keith Desormeaux
Curlin—Dawn Raid, by Vindication
It will be interesting to see how he fares against Nyquist in the San Vicente, a race neither has to win. I love the way Desormeaux trains his 3-year-olds and his old-school philosophy of starting out sprinting. As he said, “It seems like a great way to get their minds ready again for competitive racing. Maybe it doesn't take as much out of them physically as a two-turn race; it sharpens them up and puts a little speed into them that you can't get in the mornings. It's a great way to wake them up for the upcoming journey.” That is a great quote. I believe that thinking would have made Texas Red very competitive in the Triple Crown last year and will make Exaggerator very competitive on this year’s Triple Crown trail. After several long works to put some bottom in him, Desormeaux is getting him sharp, working him 5f in :58 2/5 on Feb. 2 followed by a :47 2/5 drill. He’s also had sharp works at 6 furlongs and 7 furlongs, which is another training method you don’t see that much anymore. Desormeaux has him both sharp and fit, and has put plenty of bottom in him. Remember, this colt has shown he can handle any distance and any racetrack, whether it’s in New York, California, Kentucky, or Louisiana. I moved him up a spot because he’s running this weekend, and I’ll anticipate a good performance, even if he gets beat by Nyquist, which is totally possible.
Airoforce Mark Casse
Colonel John—Chocolate Pop, by Cuvee
If this colt’s works reflect how he’s going to handle a fast dirt track, no one should have any concerns. Following his bullet 5f drill in 1:00 1/5 last week, he came right back with another scintillating 5f work in :59 3/5 breezing, second fastest of 31 works at the distance. He looks ready for a big debut, which likely will come in the Risen Stakes Feb 20. Looking at what Mor Spirit has done in his last two starts, the way he roared by him in the stretch in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes was extremely impressive, even if it was in the slop. And having Mo Tom come back and win the LeComte, drawing away in dominant fashion, just added to the quality of the field he beat and his performance. The Risen Star looks to be shaping up as a tough race, so we’ll get a good idea how he’s made the transition from 2 to 3.
Smokey Image Carla Gaines
Southern Image—Special Smoke, by Free House
Came out of his impressive romp in the Cal Cup Derby in excellent shape, according to Gaines, and will now point for the San Felipe for his first try against open company. He’s not the smoothest moving horse, but he looks to still be a work in progress, and he should gain a lot of experience from his first two-turn attempt, where he appeared to settle into a good groove in the final furlong and finished the way you want to see a horse finish. One thing we do know about him is that he is a runner, at least in state-bred company, but there is no reason think he won’t be just as formidable against better class horses. He just needs to iron out some of the kinks and use his natural talent to its full extent. As for pedigree, his sire is from the potent Halo—Hail to Reason line, out of a mare from the Pleasant Colony—His Majesty—Ribot line, while his dam is by Santa Anita Handicap, Pacific Classic, and Santa Anita Derby winner Free House, out of a mare from the Smart Strike and Nureyev lines. So forget the fact that he’s a Cal-bred.
Awesome Speed Alan Goldberg
Awesome Again—Speedy Escape, by Aptitude
If you want to know why Airoforce didn’t get a bullet work for his :59 3/5 breeze, it’s because of this colt’s :59 flat breeze, fastest of 31 works at the distance. There is no doubt he is aptly named; now we just have to find out how awesome he is against top-class competition going two turns. We know he has blazing sprint speed and can carry it a mile and rate off horses. Most of all, we know how inundated his pedigree is with stamina, which makes him all the more intriguing as he moves forward on the Derby trail. In his first three generations, he has two Breeders’ Cup Classic winners and a Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, and his tail-female family traces to the great stamina influence Herbager. His broodmare sire, Aptitude won the JC Gold Cup by 10 lengths and finished second in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, and Aptitude’s dam, Dokki, is a half-sister to Belmont Stakes winner Coastal and two-time JC Gold Cup and Woodward winner and Hall of Famer Slew ‘o Gold. So, for this colt to have such blazing speed makes one wonder just how good he may be.
Mo Tom Tom Amoss
Uncle Mo—Caroni, by Rubiano
Breezed 5f in 1:01 for the Risen Star Stakes, in which he will try to make it two-for-two on the Fair Grounds Derby trail. He’s already defeated the hard-knocking Tom’s Ready on two occasions and missed catching Mor Spirit by a head for second in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. Horses taking the full Fair Grounds series of preps to the Kentucky Derby have not fared very well at Churchill over the years, which frankly is baffling, considering it caters to stretch runners and has a surface fairly similar to Churchill’s. This colt runs contrary to his pedigree on paper, but remember, Uncle Mo is out of an Arch mare, and broodmare sire Rubiano, although a late-closing sprinter, is by Fappiano, out of a Nijinsky mare, so there are a lot of contrary aspects to his pedigree.
Rafting Graham Motion
Tapit—Paiota Falls, by Kris S.
I have him on the list because I’m expecting a big effort from him in Saturday’s Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay, for which he continues to work brilliantly, breezing 5f in 1:00 3/5 at Palm Meadows. This follows a pair of 6f breezes in 1:13 and 1:13 1/5. He’s not nominated to the Triple Crown, but Motion believes if a horse really belongs in the Derby he doesn’t mind putting up the extra money in March, and he wants to see how he runs in the Sam Davis first. Two races back, I wouldn’t have paid a dollar to nominate him, but that race was such a disaster from start to finish, and he received such a bizarre ride on top of that, he deserved another chance. And sure enough he bounced back with an impressive and professional score in the one-mile Smooth Air Stakes, defeating Fellowship, who came back to finish an excellent third to Mohaymen in the Holy Bull Stakes. This colt is training super and has a magnificent pedigree, and we’ll see soon enough if he belongs on the Derby trail
Cherry Wine Dale Romans
Paddy O’Prado—C.S. Royce, by Unbridled’s Song
The big question with him is the competition he’s been humiliating. One gauge is Southside Warrior, who he defeated by 8 1/4 lengths in a Jan. 9 allowance race. Southside Warrior came back and finished a fast-closing second to the highly touted Shagaf on Jan. 29, so at least that’s something to go by. With some big races coming up before the Fountain of Youth, he probably won’t be able to stay on here much longer. He almost came off this week to make room for Danzing Candy, but we’ll give it another week or so to let the latter’s recent allowance victory sink in a little more. If Mohaymen shows up in the Fountain of Youth as expected, we’ll definitely learn a lot more about this horse. At this point let’s just say he’s an intriguing prospect who could be any kind.
Knocking At The Door
Much was expected from DANZING CANDY in a one-mile allowance race at Santa Anita, and the son of Twirling Candy delivered with an emphatic 5 3/4-length victory, his second straight dominant score. In his maiden win on Dec. 26, he defeated MR. COKER, who came back to break his maiden impressively next time out. Plagued by poor starts in his first two starts, he was much improved this time and coasted to the lead three-wide going into the first turn. With steady and sharp fractions of :23 flat and :46 3/5, he pretty much ran his opponents into the ground, opening up at will going into the far turn.
Turning for home with a clear lead, he switched leads on cue and continued to open up, with jockey Mike Smith never touching him with the whip, his hands perfectly still. Danzing Candy then threw his ears straight up right at the wire and galloped out strong. This performance almost put him in the Top 12 and he could show up there at any time, but he has been one-dimensional in his two victories, and I would love to see him demonstrate the ability to rate off the pace, even though he gives the impression of being able to do so. Depending on this weekend’s results, he could very well pop into the Top 12 next week.
What made his performance even more impressive is that I believe the runner-up, FRENCH GETAWAY, is a pretty talented horse with a powerful stretch kick who has a bright future himself, and he couldn’t gain an inch on Danzing Candy, despite making a big run from last in the 9-horse field.
By Twirling Candy, out of a Songandaprayer mare, one would naturally have doubts about Danzing Candy’s ability to get classic distances, but his dam is a half-sister to $4.3 million earner Better Talk Now, who finished first and second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, as well as other distance grass races, and his tail-female family is all French stamina blood that includes Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Bon Mot, Washington D.C. International winner Worden, and Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winner Ocarina, as well as the legendary English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky.
UNCLE LINO and I WILL SCORE both look like talented colts, with Uncle Lino appearing to be a bit more versatile. Although he is by Uncle Mo, out of an Orientate mare, don't be fooled into thinking he can't get 1 1/4 miles. His dam is a full- sister to Alabama winner Lady Joanne and a half-sister to Preakness and Met Mile winner Shackleford, as well as the hard-knocking two-turn stakes horse Stephanoatsee. Uncle Lino seemed committed to take on I Will Score early, but he's already shown he's able to be effective coming off the pace. He's definitely in the top 15 and is eligible to make the Top 12 at any time.
Bob Baffert sent out a pair of impressive maiden winners in CUPID and TEN BLESSINGS. While the latter looks to have way too much catching up to do, Cupid, a light gray son of, who else, Tapit, looks like the real deal. He demolished his opponents with an impressive sweeping move, and after drifting in just a tad he just bounded away to win in hand in an excellent performance.
The list of prospective starters for the Feb. 15 Southwest Stakes continues to grow with the addition of AMERICAN DUBAI following a mile work in 1:44 3/5. The son of E Dubai was impressive breaking his maiden at 6 furlongs at Churchill Downs last November, and then finished second to Southwest hopeful CUTACORNER in a recent allowance race at 1 1/16 miles. He subsequently was disqualified from second and placed third. Also pointing for the Southwest are SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS, who breezed 5f in 1:01 2/5 and Z ROYAL, who breezed 5f in 1:01 and will be ridden by Gary Stevens. SYNCHRONY, a fast-closing third in the Smarty Jones Stakes and a serious threat in the Southwest, breezed a sharp 5f in 1:00 4/5, second fastest of 45 works at the distance. Also pointing for the Southwest are DISCREETNESS, COLLECTED, GORDY FLORIDA, BIRD OF TREY, and TORRONTES, among others.
The horse to watch in the Southwest, however, could be the recent allowance winner WHITMORE, who had blinkers on for the first time and looks to be a talented horse. He just has to prove that his only stretch-out race in the Delta Jackpot, in which he tired badly in the slop, was a fluke. We’ll see which is the more dominant, the stamina from Pleasantly Perfect on top or the speed throughout his female family. He gets Mike Smith for the Southwest and is coming off a sharp 5f drill in 1:00 3/5 in company with two workmates, including the stakes-winning Far Right
The first horse to be dropped from my original top 12, UNEXPLAINED, breezed 5f in 1:01, and I’m looking for a much improved effort next time out with a race under his belt, as disappointing and perplexing as that race was. He had missed some training, so let’s assume for now he was just plain short. He likely will be pointed for an Oaklawn allowance race to get some of his confidence back.
Leah Gyarmati has shipped IN EQUALITY, third in the Jerome Stakes, to Fair Grounds for the Feb. 20 Risen Star Stakes, which should attract several other proven shippers, including Breeders’ Futurity winner AIROFORCE and the Remsen third-place finisher GIFT BOX (See my column last week for this colt’s back story). The locals are headed by the LeComte first three finishers MO TOM, TOM’S READY, and UNCLE WALTER. Tom’s Ready showed he’s still razor with a bullet 5f breeze in 1:00 flat, fastest of 24 works at the distance.
Another local, GUN RUNNER, is of particular interest in that he appears to have tremendous upside and has shown in all three of his starts he runs hard and has no quit in him. He just looks like a racehorse, with excellent extension to his stride. He’s very light on his feet and has shown he doesn’t need the whip. His only flaw is that he has a tendency to switch leads at the drop of a hat. In his allowance victory, the jock shook the reins and he threw his ears up and switched back to his lead, then put his ears back and switched back to his right lead immediately after the wire. That’s something that should be corrected with experience an d maturity. In his maiden victory he jumped over the his left lead in the last stride and did it again in Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. He was game that day, hooking up with Mor Spirit in the upper stretch, only to tire a bit, finishing fourth, beaten 3 1/4 lengths in the slop.
He continues to work sharply, breezing 6f in 1:12 3/5, followed by another 6f breeze in 1:12 1/5. His dam, who won the Molly Pitcher and other stakes, is a half-sister to Horse of the Year and BC Classic winner Saint Liam and sold for $3 million at Keeneland November. She also traces to the great Gallorette. Gun Runner is inbred to Fappiano, Lyphard, and Blushing Groom, so, all in all, there is plenty of class in his pedigree, and plenty to like about him. Keep an eye on this one.
Although the Gander Stakes for New York-breds at Aqueduct is a million miles from Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, we did see a promising colt Saturday in GOVERNOR MALIBU, who was impressive winning the mile and 70-yard race by 2 1/2 lengths over the Todd Pletcher-trained SUDDEN SURPRISE. Tracking the pace the whole way, he took a pretty good bump after turning for home, but asserted himself in the final furlong to win going away for Christophe Clement. He has now scored two impressive victories since the addition of Lasix.
We saw a gutsy performance in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Oaklawn Saturday, when TISDALE stretched out to two turns and repeatedly turned back challenges to win by neck after setting a contested pace and being headed at the top of the stretch, only to take the lead again and confront a new challenge in the final furlong and a late challenge from the back of the pack, winning in a three-horse photo. The son of Friesen Fire is trained by Ron Moquett.
Larry Jones, owner, trainer, and breeder of the promising JENSEN, second in a recent allowance to DOLPHUS in his two-turn debut, said his colt may be pointed for a Feb. 25 allowance/optional claimer at Fair Grounds, with the Risen Star still an outside possibility.
It was good finally seeing ZULU back on the work tab, with the undefeated colt breezing a half in :49 3/5 at Palm Beach Downs. Although he lost his place at No. 12 due to inactivity, I still believe this colt could vault high up the list in the Fountain of Youth Stakes or wherever Todd Pletcher decides to run him. Just as they did last week, the Pletcher pair of GETTYSBURG and DESTIN worked in company, getting a half in :48 4/5.
FRANK CONVERSATION, impressive winner of California Derby, breezed 5f in 1:02 1/5 at Santa Anita. If he can duplicate that strong effort on dirt, we could be talking about a serious contender. The Doug O’Neill—Paul Reddam combo seems to be everywhere, with a plethora of 3-year-olds, and many have forgotten how impressive RALIS was winning the Hopeful Stakes. A disappointment since, he had his second work, breezing a half in :50.
In another work of interest, UNBRIDLED OUTLAW, who could turn out to be an interesting dark horse, based on several of his races at 2, returned to the work tab for Dale Romans, breezing a half in :49 3/5 at Gulfstream Park. He had a physical excuse in the BC Juvenile, so we most likely can throw that race out. Also of interest was the return to the work tab by the highly promising MATT KING COAL, who was second to Gift Box before breaking his maiden by nearly 6 lengths going a mile at Belmont Park, in which he earned a whopping 96 Beyer speed figure. Trained by Linda Rice, watch out for this son of Cool Coal Man possibly in the Gotham Stakes.
KASSEOPIA, who romped by 9 lengths on the all-weather at Kempton and then finished a good second in the Grey Stakes at Woodbine, heads to the El Camino Real Derby Saturday. Trainer Graham Motion said the English-bred has been working well on dirt with Rafting, but it won't be for a while until we find out how he handles the dirt.
Finally, for those who I am sure will bring it up, regarding SONGBIRD’S freakishly brilliant performance in the Las Virgenes, she is NOT being pointed to the Kentucky Derby. If she ever tries the boys it will be next year, as she will remain in training as a 4-year-old.